Musical Memories

I’ve always been amazed by the power music has to affect my mood and by how evocative a single song can be. Music can uplift me and cheer me up, or move me to tears, but it always does good and reaches deeply into my soul. Music and certain songs can also be tied so closely to specific memories that just a few notes can conjure up such clear images and sometimes very strong emotions too. For TCKs, there’s the added factor that certain songs remind us of one of the countries we lived in – it’s one of the ways we remember when songs (or movies) came out, because we date them from where we were living at the time.

Although I love many musical styles, groups, singers and composers, in a variety of languages, there are certain songs/groups that hold stronger memories. It doesn’t mean they are my favorites or hold a particularly special place in my heart, it’s just that somehow they have a very clear memory or location/event attached to them. Regardless of whether they’re my favorite or not, they almost always make me smile when I hear them. And I will never cease to be amazed at the clarity of images and memories they trigger.

I have written about musical memories before – listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival or Kenny Rogers during our road trips in Mexico – but there are so many more songs and groups that transport me around the world with just a few notes.

What led me to write this today was hearing a song on the radio that will always be linked to one exact moment/event: Killing Me Softly by The Fugees. That song came out in 1996 and since it was a huge hit it played over and over on MTV. I know that because we were in a hotel at the end of summer vacation, which meant we had cable and a lot of free time. I was 11 years old and we had just moved from Mexico City to Manila (Philippines). Killing Me Softly will forever be linked to that hotel room, to room service in front of a movie on HBO, to playing barbies with my sister, to that mix of anticipation and trepidation of being in a new place… I can see the hotel room so clearly in my mind, as if I had been there recently, and not 18 years ago.

The Philippines is also inextricably linked to Third Eye Blind. Their first CD was such a hit and we loved it. Even though I haven’t listened to it in a long time, I’m pretty sure I could still sing along to all their lyrics. Third Eye Blind is synonymous with walks around our “villages” (enclosed residential compounds) with my best friend at the time, discman carried between us as we shared headphones and talked about our latest crushes and gossip. Third Eye Blind (and OK, Backstreet Boys too) was also the background music while thinking about said crushes and doing homework.

A few weeks ago I heard All My Life by K-Ci and JoJo, which had also come out when we were in the Philippines… I could sing along to nearly every word and I could picture my bedroom in the Philippines more clearly than I had in years. The power a few simple notes can yield is astounding.

Interestingly, it’s only been while writing this that I realize how many musical memories are linked to the Philippines… I think that’s because I had my own room for the first time, my own radio/CD player, and I was in middle school. I was just discovering my own tastes, my own freedoms and beginning to understand the comfort/power of music.

There are definitely songs that remind me of the other countries I’ve lived in though. Blue by Eiffel 65 will forever remind me of Sydney, of hanging out with friends at the beach and parties at each other’s houses. It’s forever linked to sunshine, laughter, teenage angst and carefree days. It conjures up images of our house in the Sydney suburbs, under clear blue skies.

Then there were the other hit pop songs of the time, when we were introduced to Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, with Genie in a Bottle and Hit Me Baby One More Time. Eagle Eye Cherry’s song Save Tonight was very popular when we lived in Australia to… All these songs remind me of putting the radio on in the living room, with family and friends, chatting, laughing and even dancing around.

Certain Australian bands will always take me back there as well – Taxiride and Crowded House. And the Backstreet Boys Millennium CD will always be linked to Australia, to sleepovers with best friends and conversations about boys and gossip. We were teenage girls, what could you expect?

In more recent years I have songs that remind me of the summer we moved to the U.S. 4 years ago, or Smile by Uncle Kracker, which was our wedding song… That always brings a huge smile to my face (pun not intended) and fills me with happiness and warmth when I think of that beautiful, love-filled weekend in Provence.

I’m sure there are many more memories and songs I could bring up from the different countries I’ve lived in, but I’ll leave you with those for now. These memories all make me smile and remind me just how lucky I am to have led such a life and have such incredible experiences.

Music is a means of comfort, of communication, of escape and relaxation… but it is also a means of remembering.

What sounds or songs trigger special memories for you? 

Please feel free to share in the comments – I would love to hear your stories!

Up Around the Bend

We all have songs that remind us of a particular memory. Today I happened to be listening to some music that always brings back some very clear memories, even though they were quite some years ago and I was just a little girl.

Here’s a sample of what I’m listening to, in case you haven’t guessed from the title: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnRsaHXHznQ

Whenever I hear Creedence Clearwater Revival (or The Gambler by Kenny Rogers) I always think of our road trips in Mexico. Sitting in the back of our dark red, almost rust-colored (enormous) suburban, driving along winding and treacherous mountain roads, exploring different parts of the country. Driving to Acapulco, Cuernavaca, Taxco, Oaxaca, Puerto Vallarta, among many others. We lived there 3.5 years and we really took advantage of our time there to see as much as we could.

We were still very young, so sometimes we were excited, other times cranky, but in hindsight I’m so happy that my parents took us to see all these incredible places. Sometimes it was just us, sometimes we had family – cousins, aunts, uncles – sometimes we had friends visiting and we took them around too. Some places we only visited once and yet they still managed to find such a strong place in my memory. Others we saw many times – like Teotihuacan, where you can climb the pyramids of the sun and the moon. We went there every time we had visitors and I eventually started getting tired of going. “Adult me” mentally kicks “little girl me” in the butt when I remember that! How could I get sick of seeing something so amazing and having the luck to live near such an incredible historic and archeological site? But when you’re 9-10 years old you don’t really think like that!

Thankfully I was always interested in history, so I did love going there and I enjoyed all the history we learned while living in Mexico. Some of it was based in concrete fact, and other parts were based on myth, but they are such beautiful and mystical myths that I’ll never forget them. There’s the fascinating myth explaining why Mexico City is built over a lake – which in modern times has caused many problems with buildings shifting and sinking. There’s the beautiful but heart-wrenchingly sad myth about the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. Aztec history and myths are incredible and I was so lucky to learn about them in the land they come from.

These are just a few of the amazing opportunities we had growing up as Third Culture Kids, and despite any challenges that come with such a life, I don’t regret it. I hope I can give my children the same kind of experiences and exposure. The countries I have lived in and the cultures I have seen have taught me so much and left me with such rich memories. Having Creedence Clearwater Revival to help jog my memory is just another plus.

I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Downhill Adventures: Past

When I was a kid, we went skiing as often as we could and we were all taught to ski as soon as possible. For a long time I wasn’t really a big fan of skiing. I felt awkward and stiff on my skis, I hated going to lessons (I liked it better when dad taught us), and my fingers and toes were always cold. Besides, where we often skied those first years there was more ice than snow, and I had some bad experiences. Even to this day whenever I hit a patch of ice I feel irrational panic and fear. I’m always afraid I’ll lose control and end up tumbling down the rest of the slope.

Over the years, my relationship with skiing changed and I found moments of pleasure. There were several things that played a role in that. First of all, we actually skied on real slopes of snow, not hills of ice – it’s amazing the difference proper powdery snow can make. Secondly, we moved to Europe – skiing in the Alps takes the experience to a whole new level. It’s breathtaking in a way too amazing to put in words. Third, and extremely important, the way skis were made changed. Skis used to be long and skinny, and were meant to be your height or taller. That’s a lot of ski to try controlling and maneuvering. When they modified them over time, they were curved, rounded – and meant to be shorter than you – and so much easier to maneuver. They were made to carve the snow, to make those turns in the snow. Ok, it doesn’t mean I was suddenly amazing or in love with skiing, but it certainly helped improve my opinion and experience of skiing.

But then something happened. I experienced a joy and a freedom I had never felt before when skiing. This changed my outlook on skiing forever. I tried snow blades. For those who don’t know what they are, they are simply shorter skis. As in, half the size of regular skis. And to me, they were pure bliss. My dad let my try his, and after one slope I was hooked. There was no going back. Less length to be hassled with, no poles (I hate ski poles – no idea why, I just do); pure freedom on the slopes like I had never felt before. I had so much more control and I was tearing down those slopes. I was confident, something I rarely was when skiing. More importantly and surprisingly, I was blissfully and completely happy.

Here’s the ironic part. We normally went skiing every year for a week, during the ski break in France. I used the snow blades for 1 or 2 years, and then my university schedule didn’t match up with my brother’s school vacation, and I haven’t been skiing in probably 6-7 years. I had finally found the joy in skiing and I hardly got to bask in it. I used to be the least excited about going skiing, and I didn’t really miss it in-between trips, but these past years I’ve definitely had moments when I missed that feeling of pure freedom as you fly down the slopes.

Although that now leads me to finish this post, it also allows me to introduce my next post, where I’ll share my most recent downhill adventure: first time skiing with my husband. Sure, I didn’t have my snow blades and it wasn’t the Alps, but it was a beautiful, fun and invigorating day. We definitely made a lot of wonderful memories – but more on that next time…

2013 is definitely off to a good start.

Mystery Memories: Part 2

Beautiful and bright exotic flowers, vividly colorful against the gray skies.

The most delicious mangoes I’ve ever tasted. I think they were the first mangoes I ever ate, and I have yet to find mangoes as wonderful as those.

The most rain I’ve ever seen fall continuously. It just kept falling for days and days and days and…yes, more days after that. I guess that happens though, when you live somewhere tropical with a rainy season.

When I first moved there, someone told me there were two seasons: hot, and hotter. It’s true. But what they left out is that there is also humid, and more humid. So humid. All. The. Time. (I don’t like humidity, in case that wasn’t clear.)

Probably the country where we felt the most like outsiders, because our physical appearance was so different. There was no question we were foreigners there:  we felt it and we looked it.

I was surprised to find that Spanish words were part of the language here, but once I learned the history of this country it made more sense. Still, it was definitely a big surprise when we found that we understood certain words, even though the language was so foreign to us!

This country has some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches I’ve ever seen. White sand, transparent turquoise water, palm trees swaying in the wind…Perfect paradise islands, with hidden lagoons of immeasurable beauty. I was awed by the serenity in the lagoons and the clarity of the gorgeous water. It was quite some time ago and I was young, but the beauty stayed with me and the memories are so clear in my mind, as if it were yesterday.

I know there may not be many clues, and they might not provide much direction, but can you guess which country this is (or maybe the continent/region it’s in)?

Scents and Sensibility

The smell of lavender. The smell of freshly fallen pine needles. The crisp smell of a cold winter’s day. The smell of mountain air. The smell of the sea. The smell of certain foods and spices. The smell of a fine wine.

I could go on mentioning other smells that are special to me and trigger memories that I love. Memories of places, of people, of foods that make me happy and are part of who I am.

Lavender will always make me think of Provence, in the south of France. Breathtakingly vibrant fields of purple; a dash of brilliant color amidst the green and gold. The smell of summer, of sunshine and of happy, lazy days surrounded by loved ones. Lavender also reminds me of the suburbs we lived in just outside of Paris – across the road from us were a few rows of lavender, the sweet smell floating in the air and attracting the bees. Their blooming signaled the arrival of summer days, as we walked past them on the way home from the train after classes or from the boulangerie with a warm baguette in hand. Lavender reminds me of our beautiful wedding day – summer in Provence and dried lavender was thrown on us instead of confetti or rice. Oh, it was everywhere and I was still finding it in my hair the next morning, but it looked and smelled beautiful. It smelled of summer, of Provence and of love.

Provence, France. Words cannot convey the love I have for this region.
Photo credit: my family (provided by my brother).

The smell of pine needles brings back many memories, but I’ve noticed that different varieties of pine trees each correspond to its own set of memories. I only realized this recently and I find it fascinating how one seemingly simple sense is actually infinitely complex. The smell of pine trees here in New England reminds me of being a little girl in Wisconsin. We had several huge pine trees in our yard and my sister and I spent hours playing in the shade of those majestic trees, inventing stories and making pine needle crowns. When I moved back to the U.S. with my husband two years ago, memories I hadn’t thought of in years suddenly flooded back when I smelled the pine trees, especially in the cool autumn air.

Pine tree in the crisp autumn air of New England.

Pine trees near the Mediterranean, however, have a different smell and another set of memories. The first time I was near the Mediterranean (well, the first time I can remember – being born in Cyprus doesn’t count!), was when we finally visited Lebanon as a family. The smells from Lebanon are deeply engrained in my senses, even though it has been 10 years since the last time I was there. Certain areas of Provence have a smell that conjures up images of Lebanon in my mind. And most recently, it was in Italy that I smelled those pine trees. The smell of them in the mountains is what most closely resembles their scent in Lebanon. In the middle of the hot, humid summer, the mountains provide respite from the heat and a haven of forests for walks and games. The cooler mountain air mixed with pine trees is both invigorating and relaxing, energizing yet soothing. I find that the silence of the forests in the mountains is so peaceful, so restful after all the noises in our everyday lives. And the smell of the pine needles completes the feeling of perfect serenity, bringing back many happy memories.

Pine tree in Tuscany, Italy on a warm summer’s day; they remind me so much of Lebanon.

The smell of a crisp winter’s day or of a snow covered mountain makes me think of snowy winters as a kid and sparkling ski slopes under a dazzling blue sky. It makes me think of hours of playing in the snow with my cousins, of building snowmen and throwing snowballs. It reminds me of family ski trips and finally finding real pleasure in skiing when I tried snow blades, after years of mixed feelings about skiing. I can almost hear the swish of the skis on the slopes and see the sparkling snow when I smell a cold winter’s day. It reminds me of happily eating a snickers bar on the ski lift, deliciously frozen after hours in our pockets. I can recall the glorious, exhilarating yet peaceful sensation when the skis carve the snow just right, when it’s a perfect fluffy powder that sprays up, glistening like diamonds in the sun. You can block out everyone around you and just enjoy the gliding motion, the smell of the pine trees, the crisp mountain air, and the musical rhythm in your head. I haven’t been skiing in many years and I was surprised to find how much I miss it. The cold New England winters awoke a longing I didn’t even know I had. I long to see the wide open views from the mountain tops; the clear blue sky defining the peaks lined with pine trees and the snow glittering like millions of diamonds. I long to once again feel the swish of my skis and to eat a frozen snickers bar while hanging in the air. I long for the invigorating rush of the cold air on my cheeks while I glide downhill and the golden warmth of the sun when I pause along the way. But most of all, I long for that fleeting moment of pure, blissful freedom.

The French Alps – a hard view to beat.
Photo courtesy of Rawi Fayad

Although the mountain and sea are infinitely different from each other, they both give me that feeling of freedom. They both invigorate me and renew me. The sea has a special hold over me. So many memories are linked to the sea that it is difficult to go through them all, but they are among my happiest. The smell of the sea soothes me in a way no other smell can. The sound of the waves crashing, the sand under your feet, the horizon that goes on forever… The smell of the sea means summer days, family, cousins, grandiose sandcastles, picnics on the sand; it means reading a good book under the warm sun with the ebb and flow of the waves as music. I am not a Pisces without reason – I’ve always felt a pull towards water: rivers, lakes, waterfalls, oceans and seas… They all have such beauty, but the sea has the strongest pull of all, and I will return to it, always. Being in the water in what I love most about the sea. It soothes and cleanses me; it gives me renewed energy and a serenity I cannot explain. The smell of the sea calms me and reaches the deepest core of my being.

The eternally enchanting Mediterranean Sea.

I won’t delve into detail on the smells of food, spices and wine, because there is much to say but it’s hard to explain. I’m sure we all have certain smells that remind us of something. The smell of a certain dish that conjures up an image of grandma’s kitchen, or baking cakes with mom as a kid, or popcorn nights with dad… Spices that remind us of an exotic vacation or of home, snuggled in on a cold winter’s night. Each smell and each thought stirred more memories in me. Memories that are sometimes hidden so deep that only my nose seems to remember them.

The sense of smell is such a powerful one and can stir such deep memories, yet we often overlook it. It’s one of the first senses to develop and one of the last to go… Imagine how many memories it can hold for each of us?

“Please Do Not Touch”

“Thank you.”

These signs could be found all over our hotel rooms, in between moves, when my sister and I were playing a very creative (not to mention expansive) game of barbies. Yes, barbies. In a hotel room. But let me start from the beginning to explain this somewhat odd behavior.

These photos are unfortunately not the actual hotel photos, but they are the contemporary and creative work of my brother, Rawi Fayad. Expect more barbie posts simply to showcase his talent.

My sister and I are 2.5 years apart and we loved barbies. Obviously, as we grew older we played with them less and less, but they were still a measure of childhood comfort when we found ourselves in a new and foreign place. A lot of the moves we did usually required shipping our household items by boat, which meant that we would arrive in the new country before all of our things. This in turn meant that we would be staying in a hotel for a couple of weeks at least or a couple of months at most. We would be in a totally foreign country, starting in a new school, without even the comfort and familiarity of home. So our wonderful parents always tried to ease this difficulty by allowing us to select certain items to send by express freight (along with clothes and other necessary items) so that they would arrive earlier, while we were still at the hotel. The barbies were always part of that express shipment.

As we got older, the barbies became less of a game for us, but more of a symbol of comfort, of home, of having each other as friends during these tough times. We didn’t play with them as much anymore, and yet we still created an extensive and elaborate domain for them in our hotel room. Every available space was used to create bedrooms, living rooms, pool areas…We used hand towels, vases, flowers – everything that could be used to create their spaces was used. Hence the signs. We knew that housekeeping would clean everything up if we didn’t explicitly ask them not to. So we politely asked them not to. Poor housekeeping – we must have made things so complicated for them, even though we truly didn’t realize it at that time. They kindly left our crazy creations where they were, and we appreciated that so much more than words can say.

Yes, our barbies are in varying catastrophic states. They have had limbs broken, heads popping off, they’ve been held together by tape, had their hair cut (this was never a successful endeavor), travelled the world, and made two little girls very happy, time and time again.

The time spent in hotels was often trying because it was either upon arriving somewhere unknown or when leaving a place that was home. Memories stick from certain hotels, and for some reason I have a lot from the hotel we stayed in when we first moved to the Philippines. Those barbie memories are from there, but there are other things that immediately trigger thoughts of that hotel. When we stayed there, the movie of the month on HBO was Maverick with Mel Gibson, which meant they played the movie several times a day. I’ve always loved that movie, and since then, whenever I see it I have a clear picture in my mind of the hotel room. The same goes for The Fugees’ song ‘Killing Me Softly’ – it must have come out around that time so MTV played it over and over… It’s amazing the little things that trigger memories. And it’s astounding how much the little things matter – having something constant on TV was soothing in a way; at least we knew what to expect when everything around us was a whirlwind. And having our barbies with us was a source of comfort in the upheaval.

We had to make the hotel our temporary home and the barbies helped do that, as odd and childish as that may sound. It helped to have those few familiar items around us and to play with them as if we were home. They entertained us, but most importantly, they comforted us.

So, please, do not touch. Thank you.

Despite the obvious wear and tear (and lack of hairdresser appointments), these barbies were loved very, very much. The proof: we still have them.

Sharing

Third culture kids are used to having to adapt to new places, new cultures and new people. We’re used to learning to settle in some place new and how to tackle the challenges associated with that. But ‘used to’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy, or something that we always manage to do quickly and with great ease. Some places are easier to adapt to than others, some cultures are more familiar than others, and some people are more welcoming than others. Also, we have good days and bad days, like anyone else. And the truth is, as stoic as we may seem on the outside, the inside is often in turmoil. It could just be my opinion, but I think we internalize a lot of the struggles. I think we do open up more around other TCKs, but even then, I don’t know how much we truly get into the nitty-gritty details about how we feel. We don’t necessarily share the emotions we felt at leaving a place we called home and all the chagrin that caused. We won’t particularly talk about what went through our minds when we arrived some place foreign, feeling completely lost, intimidated and often sad. We put on a brave face and try to pretend we know what we’re doing. We try to hold back any fears and any tears. Bringing them out in the open makes them too real, and often once they’re out, they’re very tough to box back in.

In my family, we were always lucky that our parents talked about the moves with us and we always had several months ‘warning’ before we would actually move. This at least allowed us time to let the news sink in and to let us enjoy the last months there as fully as we could. I also believe that as a third culture kid, you eventually develop a sixth sense that forewarns you that the moment you dread is approaching. The one time that stands out the clearest in my mind is when I found out the news that we would be moving from Sydney to Paris.

It was a sunny day and my last class must have been P.E., because I was in my sports uniform – navy blue shorts and a sunflower yellow polo – sitting in the car with my mom, on the way to the dentist after school. I remember my mom saying she had some bad news to tell me (did she say ‘bad’ or just ‘news’ and my brain registered ‘bad’?), and I just knew. Maybe it was something in her tone, which felt more gentle than usual, maybe it was a sixth sense…Whatever it was, I knew the news was that we were moving again. I didn’t worry that perhaps something had happened to a family member or that someone was sick, because I knew exactly what she was going to tell me. So I turned to her, already feeling the knot in my stomach, the tears in my eyes and hearing the crack in my voice…I must have said something along the lines of “please don’t tell me we’re moving”, but to be honest, I don’t quite remember. I just remember the confirmation and how I felt at that moment. I just asked why and probably pleaded for us to stay, as silent tears rolled down my cheeks. We were in my mom’s little red car, the afternoon sun was peeking through green leaves, and my world had just been turned upside down. All I could do was dry my tears and go see my dentist.

I doubt many people know this story, as it’s not something I’ve often shared. And to be honest, I don’t think I’ve heard many, if any, similar stories, yet I highly doubt that I’m the only TCK to have had moments and feelings like these. But how often do we actually share these stories? How often do any of us truly talk about the emotions we go through during the usual pattern of our TCK life? I happened to touch upon rather sad emotions in this post, but the truth is, I don’t think we talk about the happy moments either, and there are so many of those as well. The life of a third culture kid isn’t easy, and there are a lot of tough moments, but in the end the positive moments and the amazing experiences you gain outweigh the harder times. I know I’ve said that before, but it’s because I believe it so strongly. I also believe that it’s important to share these emotions and these experiences – both the good and the bad (and yes, also the ugly).

So here I am: I’m a third culture kid and I’m sharing my stories.

What’s your story?

Mystery Memories: Part 1

Purple and pink bougainvilleas covering the walls of houses and filling gardens with bursts of color. Oh, how I remember those beautiful flowers so vividly. I remember the delight I felt when I discovered that they bloom in orange and white too. I associate those colors of bougainvillea with the seaside for some reason…

The two majestic volcanoes that keep guard over the city – a weeping warrior and his lost love. I loved the ancient myths we learned while living here, about the founding of this city and about the sun and the moon. The stories are so beautiful and filled with pride and a deep magic. Maybe I’ll share them here someday.

A bright blue house that we often walked past and imagined stories around it – it was a family daydream.

The day of the dead celebrations, where the city erupted in color and festivities. Skulls and skeletons weren’t spooky, but instead were colorful, joyous…and tasty. Sugar skulls were distributed to kids and the bakeries made their famous (and delicious!) ‘Pan de los Muertos’. It was such a surprise the first year, but it’s such a special celebration and what it stands for is truly beautiful.

Sitting atop the pyramid of the sun, 365 steep steps later, exhausted but pleased, surveying the view and the pyramid of the moon across the path. I loved to look at all the little stands selling replicas of the pyramids in different materials and sizes. There were clear glass ones, but a bluish glass that was beautiful and delicate. But my favorite ones were made of obsidian. That stone is common in this country, and it is absolutely stunning, in my opinion. It is such a unique stone: a rich, glittering black, with shimmering undertones of gold.

And the food…the food from this country is known worldwide, but the watered down version eaten elsewhere will never match up to the real thing. The flavors are magnificent. The quesadillas you could buy while strolling down a cobblestone street in a small town – they were delectable. They were made on a hot stone, often by an old lady sitting on the ground, and they were handed to you with the cheese still bubbling. They were just the right amount of crunchy and the cheese was melted just perfectly. I could probably do an entire (and lengthy) post just on the food from this wonderful nation, but for now, I’ll leave you with that little image. Oh, one more thing though on the food before moving on: it was the first place I tasted avocado, and I fell in love with it. They put it on almost everything there. Lucky me.

The people of this country are so warm and welcoming; their culture is endlessly rich and fascinating.

And more than anything, what remains with me from this country are the colors. Bright, warm, and everywhere. Colors more vivid than I could have imagined, from the flowers, to the house, and clothes, rugs…even the stones of the jewelry, with the bright colors of jade and turquoise.

There is so much more that I could say about this country, but these memories are what come to mind now.

Do you know which country it is?

Ode to a Flute

It’s amazing how many memories a single object can hold. I’m not talking about a photo album and how many pictures can fit in one; I’m talking about things you grew up with, items you made memories with.

I have recently been reunited with one such object: my flute. It has been a most joyous reconnection, and one that has brought many memories flooding back. I have also been reminded of just how much I love to play my flute. It soothes me and often helps express emotions that are difficult to put in words.

My flute brings back memories of several countries, several schools, different school bands, concerts, performances, rehearsals… It doesn’t just hold memories from one place, from one moment; that’s the wonderful thing about such objects – they open up a treasure chest of memories. My flute makes me remember people I may have otherwise forgotten; it reminds me of the adrenaline and excitement of concerts; it gives me crystal clear images of all the band rooms I played in, the performance halls, the band trips… It has been a faithful and true friend for so many years, one that has never let me down and has comforted me countless times.

My flute travelled the world with me – from the Philippines to Australia, on to France, and now the U.S. – and took me through middle school, high school, college, work and now getting married. When I hold my flute I remember all the wonderful and fun times in band. The rehearsals, the laughter, the cringing when we knew how awful we sounded, the pride when we knew the music was finally sounding how it should, and the fun we had at the concerts.

I started playing the flute in 6th grade, when we had just moved to the Philippines. New country, new school, new opportunities. I chose band as an elective because I wanted to play the flute. I had played the piano for several years and I was not a fan. It’s a good thing my parents insisted I continue with piano until I played another instrument because it made the transition so much easier. But it was clear from the start that the flute and myself had a special connection. When the band teacher said it would be hard to make a sound at first, I made one right away. I was hooked. It felt right, it felt natural, and I loved it. I progressed in leaps and bounds, one year of flute outshining many years of piano.

Then I received what still remains one of the best gifts ever: my very own flute. I was so excited and happy when my dad placed that case in my hands. The ridged black case, the name etched in silver, the two buckles, now spotted with rust, the blue velvet interior…and the gleaming flute inside. I have lovingly taken care of my beautiful instrument and I still get a thrill every time I make a note. I love to clean off the smudge marks and see it still shine inside its royal blue velvet throne. It’s splendid and it’s mine. That was the thought in my mind when I first opened it, and it’s still the thought I have today.

I still play that very same flute today, and I hope to keep playing it for many years to come.

“If music be the food of love, play on…”

                        Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night, (Act 1, Scene 1), William Shakespeare

Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend

The crisp, cold air stings my face and makes my eyes water, but I don’t mind. Even if I have moments when I long for spring and summer, I do love winter. The naked branches dance against the sky; they are nature’s work of art, as if they were painted or drawn with ink. The beautiful stillness and quiet when it snows is one of my favorite things of winter. Perhaps everyone is watching with wonder in their eyes, or perhaps the falling snow muffles any sound; whatever the reason, the silence is part of the beauty, part of the spectacle. Following the magic of those spectacular snowflakes floating to the ground is the sparkly winter wonderland of a world seemingly encrusted with glittering diamonds.

Does anything look cleaner or more pure than freshly fallen snow?

This is the first time in a very long time that I’m living in a place where snow is usual for the winter. The last time I lived in a city with a snowy winter I was a little girl, living in Wisconsin. When you’re a kid, you never think of the ‘nuisance’ parts of cold, snowy winters – clearing the cars and driveways, or the ice on the streets – you only think of the magical aspect of it. It’s all about the beautiful snowflakes falling from the sky, the sparkling white snow to play in, the snowmen and snow caves, eating the snow, sledding, snow angels and snowball fights…and delicious hot chocolate after all that exhilarating fun.

That’s how I remember my winters as a little girl. My sister and I would get so excited when the snowflakes began to fall. We couldn’t wait to get all bundled up and run outside, mouths open to catch the falling snow. We loved to catch the snowflakes on our gloves and admire their beautiful and unique shapes – after all, no two snowflakes are alike! We would drop in the snow and make snow angels; we would have snowball fights with mom and dad. One time, our neighbors helped us build a snow cave with a tunnel – that was awesome, trust me. One of my all time favorite things was to eat the snow. I could just sit down and happily eat it, for quite some time. Sure, it’s just water in one of its many forms, but it’s snow. Enough said. Something else I loved in the winter: seeing our husky appear out of nowhere in the white expanse. When my dad would call him, a head would suddenly pop out of the snow in some part of the yard. He would dig himself a hole to curl up in, then it would snow over him and he’d be completely covered. He loved the snow, but did refuse to pull our sled. Adamantly refused. If we ever put the sled rope around his neck, he would sit down and refuse to budge. We never minded – his reaction made us laugh. And he loved playing with us in the snow, as long as we weren’t trying to make him pull our sled! Besides, we would sled down the 2-3 steps of our back porch, and even if it wasn’t much of a slope, it was enough for us. Our back yard was a vision in white: a huge expanse of glittering, dazzling snow, like sparkling diamonds, and we loved it.

Snow also makes me think of our time in Montreal at Christmas, and all the time spent playing outside with our cousins. Back then you were sure to always have a very white Christmas, which meant we would be out in the snow as much as possible. We would build fortresses, we would throw snowballs, and we would sit and happily eat the snow when recovering our energy after a more strenuous activity. We would spend hours at a time outside, often only coming in when our moms came looking for us, convinced the snow had managed to get inside our gloves, socks, jackets (everywhere basically), and that we were most likely soaked through with freezing toes and fingers. They were generally correct, even if we would never admit it. Then we’d all trample home, usually leaving a trail of snow behind us, and continue our chatting and games over a wonderful cup of hot chocolate. The next day we would be ready for our fun again, basking in the glow of the sun and the brightness of the snow, glittering like precious gems. It was blissful and I will forever keep wonderful memories of those days.

Even as I’ve gotten older I’ve never lost the excitement and wonder I felt when I would see the snowflakes start falling. I’ll still play in the snow – just a couple of years ago, when we had an unexpected snowstorm in France, my brother, husband and I went outside with our current husky, and we had a blast. Our husky was so excited to be out in all that snow, he was running everywhere, so happy to be part of our games. We threw snowballs, we ate some snow, we made snow angels, and the guys were even brave enough (or crazy?) to let themselves fall face-first in the snow. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, but it was hilarious to watch! Snow has provided me with hours and hours of pure, blissful and heart-warming fun and I look forward to the many hours still waiting to be filled with wintry joy.

Snow will always bring a smile to my face and I can’t wait to play in it again – with my husband, my siblings, my cousins, and eventually, with my kids. That glittering gem of nature will always be this girl’s favorite type of diamond.